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Commentaires écrits par
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia)

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Watson's Pier
Watson's Pier
Prix : CDN$ 18.92

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Gallipoli. Gallipoli was a fiasco. It was a sideshow to the war.’, April 27 2015
This review is from: Watson's Pier (Kindle Edition)
Stanley Holm Watson (1887-1985) was one of the first ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and amongst the last to leave on the night of the 19-20th December 2015. The withdrawal from Gallipoli used the pier at Anzac Cove which Watson had built and which provides the title for the book, written by Watson’s great-grandson, Joshua Funder.

‘One Christmas, when I was a small boy, I sat with my brother at the feet of our great-grandfather, Stanley Watson, to hear his account of Gallipoli.’

Sixty-two years after leaving Gallipoli, Stanley Holm travels to Melbourne on a slow train to spend Christmas with his family. He was then aged 90, and it was the account of him shaving with a cutthroat razor whilst on the train that reminded me of my own grandfather, also at Gallipoli, and who was also still using a cutthroat razor until he died aged 80. From that point on, I was spellbound.

‘The war. It was horrible. All the mud and shells and gas.’

This book is a blend of fact and fiction. Joshua Funder states that the events closely follow the historical accounts in Charles Bean’s ‘Official War History’ and in Stanley Watson’s ‘Gallipoli: Sapper Signalmen’. These historical accounts provide the framework for Joshua Funder’ s account of his great-grandfather’s life, for his experiences of Gallipoli. While Gallipoli is the major focus of the book, Stanley Holm’s long life (he was 97 when he died), it is not the only aspect of his life covered.

There’s an account of Stanley Watson’s return to the Gallipoli peninsula in 1977, of his consciousness of what actually happened there in contrast to how it might have been:

‘It had taken Watson more than sixty years and less than two hours to conquer the peninsula.’

And yes, there are mentions of the mistakes made, including (is it fact, or fiction?) that the Anzacs were disembarked at the wrong destination. There’s mention, too, of the bravery, of the disease, fear and injury that was so much a part of the Gallipoli experience.

‘Even in an army, each man has to fight his own battle.’

I read this book, not so much concerned about differentiating fact from fiction or in trying to ascertain what went wrong. I read this book because it enabled me to get a sense of what these men experienced. My grandfather never spoke of his war experiences, never wore his medals and never returned to Gallipoli. But for a short while, thanks to a 90 year old man using a cutthroat razor to shave whilst on a train, I felt some sense of his experience.

This book does not glorify war, not is it a romantic accounting of the Gallipoli legend. It is about one man’s experiences and the impacts on his family. It’s a story worth reading, and remembering.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for an opportunity to read this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Darkness, Darkness: (Resnick 12) (Charlie Resnick series)
Darkness, Darkness: (Resnick 12) (Charlie Resnick series)
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘The snow had started falling long before the first car departed.’, April 24 2015
Thirty years ago, in 1984, Charlie Resnick was a newly promoted Detective Inspector. Thirty years ago, Arthur Scargill led the National Union of Mineworkers in one of the most infamous strikes in the UK’s history. And as the British Miners’ Strike became increasingly violent, Charlie Resnick ran undercover operations in Nottingham where policemen, disguised as union sympathizers were sent into the ranks of the protestors in order to gather intelligence. In 2014, the body of a young woman, is found under concrete at a Nottinghamshire home. The body is identified as belonging to Jenny Hardwick, a miner’s wife, who went missing in 1984. Who killed Jenny Hardwick, and why?

Charlie Resnick has now retired from the police force but does some work as a civilian investigator. Detective Inspector Catherine Njoroge is assigned the Jenny Hardwick case, and asks Charlie Resnick for assistance given his knowledge of both the strike and of Jenny Hardwick. Charlie Resnick knew Jenny Hardwick as an impassioned activist for the strike, imploring the wives of the miners to keep their husbands out of the pit and on the picket line. Jenny’s own husband Barry was one of the ‘scabs’ still working in the mine, complicating their own lives at the time as well as the present investigation. Some of the enmities engendered by the miners’ strike still exist, and colour people’s views of the past.

This, I read, is to be Charlie Resnick’s last case, and as the narrative moves between past and present, we can see how Resnick himself has changed over the thirty years. As he investigates the case, he struggles with his own grief over the death of his partner. And Catherine Njoroge has some problems of her own to deal with.

While this particular story drew me in, reminded me of the impacts of the Miners’ Strike and had me guessing about who killed Jenny Hardwick (and why), the character of Charlie Resnick has me intrigued. This is the first of the Charlie Resnick novels I’ve read, and I’m keen to read the earlier novels in the series.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Strays
The Strays
Prix : CDN$ 8.79

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘In a house, as in a garden, there is a point when over-mingling can occur.’, April 23 2015
This review is from: The Strays (Kindle Edition)
The novel opens with Lily receiving an invitation to a retrospective exhibition of the art of Evan Trentham, one of the early Modernists. Lily, now middle-aged, first met the Trentham family when she met Eva Trentham on her first day at school. The invitation reminds Lily of (and introduces the reader to) members of the Trentham family and to the artist colony they founded in the 1930s on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Lily is an only child, and through her friendship with Eva, becomes very familiar with the Trentham family. She finds the Trentham household very different from her own. In addition to the Trentham family (Helena, Evan and their three daughters Bea, Eva and Heloise), the household also includes another painter (Patrick) and his partner (Vera). Three other artists, Ugo, Maria and Jerome join the household shortly afterwards. It’s a household full of ‘strays’, and while the adults pursue their objectives (artistic and otherwise) the children are largely left to their own devices.

Family circumstances lead to Lily effectively joining the Trentham household, and learning that bohemian freedom can also has a dark side. As Lily looks back on the past, bridging the gap between the 1930s and the 1980s, we learn about the strength of some friendships and the betrayal (perhaps) of others.

‘This is what adulthood is, I thought: this secrecy; this cultivation of separateness.’

Many of the characters in this novel are complex, and the setting are beautifully described. While I found few of the characters likeable, they each seemed a perfect fit in the world Emily Bitto created for them: adults mostly oblivious to the need to take responsibility for children and children unaware of the consequences of their actions. Can friendship survive the many challenges of life in such a household? What has Lily learned from her life with the Trenthams? And Evan Trentham and the other artists? Can there be a balance between creativity and destruction?

‘For some, the years spent with another person – the fights, the lovers, the separations – are all knowledge of that person, all shades of intimacy and history.’

I loved Emily Bitto’s description of the Trentham world, shuddered each time parental or adult responsibility was avoided, and wondered what would happen as each child became an adult. And the ending? How should such a story end? Does Lily Struthers ever belong? While I finished the novel with questions, they were not questions about the construction of the novel and the way it worked. My questions are a consequence of the issues raised within the novel, about people, their choices and consequences.

‘The Strays’ is in part inspired by the artists of the Heide Circle, who lived and worked at ‘Heide’ between the 1930s and 1950s. Emily Bitto was awarded the 2015 Stella Prize for ‘The Strays’. She is the first novelist to win the award for her debut novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Gift of Sydney: An Epic Novel of the Struggle to Forge the Multicultural, World-Class City of Sydney, Australia (A Sydney, Australia, Series Novel Book 2)
Gift of Sydney: An Epic Novel of the Struggle to Forge the Multicultural, World-Class City of Sydney, Australia (A Sydney, Australia, Series Novel Book 2)
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I’m very upset. I never suspected anyone in my family of being a crook - suddenly I have two.’, April 14 2015
‘Gift of Sydney’ opens in 1903, two years after federation and closes in 1981 with Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s inaugural address on multiculturalism to the Institute of Multicultural Affairs. Australia’s journey to multiculturalism is one of the themes of this novel.

Three families are central to the novel: the Armstrongs, the Fongs and the Hudsons. The Armstrong family - powerful, wealthy and white. In 1903, the family is concerned about their ‘convict stain’: in those days, having convict forebears was seen as something to be ashamed of. The Fong family are Chinese, and are suffering as a consequence of the White Australia Policy brought into being by one of the first acts of the Australian Parliament: the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. This Act prevents the Chinese (amongst others) from immigrating to Australia and is causing many of those already in Australia to leave. The Hudson family are seen as part of the ‘Aboriginal Problem’ and are subjected to intrusive and at times devastating government programs. In following the lives of some of the members of these three families, Mr Richards brings to life many aspects of life in Australia during the two world wars and the Great Depression. He also touches on the rejection of the White Australia Policy, the Freedom Ride of 1965, the controversy around building the Sydney Opera House and Australia’s response to the Vietnamese Boat People.

As an Australian, I read the novel with mixed feelings. Certainly, there are aspects of our past as a nation with which I (and others) are uncomfortable and in some regards, we still have plenty to do. But there is much of which to be proud as well. I have two comparatively small niggles: we have ‘mums’ in Australia, not ‘moms’. And, while the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 was amongst the first acts of the Australian Parliament, it was not the first. The first act of the Australian Parliament was the Consolidated Revenue Act 1901. (Yes, money has always been a priority for government.)

Because three families carry much of the weight of the story, they also include the best and the worst stereotypes attributed to the groups they represent. Mostly this works well and keeps the story moving, but occasionally I found it overwhelming.

In a note at the end of the novel, Mr Richards differentiates fact from fiction, and also provides a list of sources. Invaluable for those who wish to do more reading.

‘Gift of Sydney’ is the second book in a series about the history of Australia, more specifically Sydney. While it is possible to read this novel as a standalone book, if you are interested in the history of Australia since European settlement in 1788, I’d recommend reading the books in order to obtain a better sense of the families involved and their history.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, an electronic copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Prix : CDN$ 7.96

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘You’re like her – an eight cylinder job, and a beauty. So I’m calling you Caddie.’, April 13 2015
This review is from: Caddie (Kindle Edition)
In the introduction to this book, written in 1965, Dymphna Cusack writes of how she and Florence James first met Caddie when they hired her as a domestic helper in 1945. Ms Cusack explains how she encouraged Caddie to tell her own story and sets out the process Caddie followed, of learning how to type, of draft and redraft of the book.

‘I’d like to write a book myself,’ she used to say, ‘but I never had the education.’

This book, sub-titled ‘The Autobiography of a Sydney Barmaid’, is Caddie’s version of her experiences of life, including during the Great Depression. Caddie is the author’s nickname. It was bestowed on her by a patron in one of the bars in which she worked. Caddie writes of her battle to maintain her respectability while, having left her husband, she supports her two children. After a brief outline of her childhood, a description of her marriage and the reasons why she left her husband, the book follows Caddie’s experiences as a barmaid (from 1924) and later as an SP (starting-price) bookmaker in the tough working-class pubs of Sydney. Caddie’s story continues until 1941, when her son Terry joined up to fight in World War II.

‘I was twenty-four when I got my first job in a Sydney hotel bar, not from choice, but because I was broke and needed the money to support myself and my two children.’

Caddie’s account of life as a barmaid – when bars were segregated on gender lines, with the barmaid being the only female in the main bar, of the ‘six o’clock swill’ – when many drinkers tried to drink as much as they could before the bar closed at 6pm, of SP bookmaking, and of the grinding poverty experienced during the Great Depression makes for an interesting account of these times. The underlying theme of the story is the stoicism and strength of a female ‘battler’. It’s difficult to know how much of this story is true and how much it has been embellished in the telling. Perhaps it doesn’t matter: we admire our archetypal heroes, and Caddie’s story enables her to fit that role.

And who was Caddie? Catherine Beatrice (Caddie) Edmonds (11 November 1900 – 16 April 1960) was born at Penrith, New South Wales. She was the second daughter and fifth of eleven children of Hugh Edmonds, a labourer from Ireland, and his Scottish-born wife Maggie Elizabeth, née Helme (d.1945). This book, after seven drafts, was first released in London in May 1953. It was not published in Australia until 1966. In 1976, it was adapted as a movie starring Helen Morse.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Refuge: Text Classics
The Refuge: Text Classics
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘It was, I found, the most difficult night telephone call I had ever made.’, April 12 2015
Lloyd Fitzherbert is the police reporter with the Sydney Gazette. Each night, he rings the CIB. The night the novel opens he expects to be told of a body found in Sydney Harbour. It is the body of Irma, Fitzherbert’s lover, a beautiful young woman who fled persecution in Nazi Europe. Lloyd Fitzherbert is the narrator of this story and we know, because he tells us in the opening pages, that he has killed Irma.

Over the course of the novel, narrated entirely by Fitzherbert, we learn about how and where they met, of Irma’s flight from Europe where she had been connected with both the Communists and the Nazis. Fitzherbert tells us of how he has protected Irma within Australia from those suspicious of her difference and possible connections. It’s post-war Australia, paranoid with concern about communists and spies. Fitzherbert tells us about his friend Barbara and his teenage son Alan. The story is unfolded within some beautiful descriptions of the city of Sydney (surely a character in her own right) and the Blue Mountains.

‘One question’s answer seems merely to ask another question, until I feel I am getting nowhere.’

There’s plenty of tension in the novel for, although we know Irma has been murdered by Fitzherbert, there’s plenty of past to be navigated before we know why she was murdered. Fitzherbert is controlling the narrative, and the past is important.

What made this novel work for me was Kenneth Mackenzie’s use of language. Somehow, finding out why Irma was murdered became secondary to following Fitzherbert’s story. Yes, within a few pages of the end I had worked out why Fitzherbert murdered Irma, but somehow (by that stage in the novel) the reason for the murder seemed less central to the story than trying to understand who these people were, and why they acted in particular ways. It really shouldn’t work, this slow retracing of events, but it does. The novel is a tragedy. And by the end of it, I was wondering about the various meanings of refuge.

This novel was first published in 1954, a year before Kenneth Mackenzie died. He wrote four novels and published two books of poetry. This is the first of his novels that I have read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Alphabet of Light and Dark
Alphabet of Light and Dark
Prix : CDN$ 9.79

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Thirty-nine he was when he went to the lighthouse. Not a great age by any means, but he already had the look of an old man.’, April 10 2015
The Cape Bruny Lighthouse, at the southern tip of Bruny Island off the south-east coast of Tasmania is the setting for Ms Wood’s novel. The main character, Essie Lewis, is an oceanographer and aspiring author who goes to Cape Bruny both to research her family’s past and to try to find meaning in her own life. In the novel, in italics, we read fragments of the book Essie is writing. Written as a first-hand contemporary account, Essie writes of her great-great grandfather’s experiences on Bruny Island in the late 1800s. Her account captures this period, with the hardships endured by lighthouse families, the isolation from others and the difficult physical environment.

‘Essie remembers that in stories it is often the silent who end up with the task of the telling.’

The current caretaker of the lighthouse is Pete Shelverton, hunter of feral cats and part-time sculptor. As children, Essie and Peter knew each other briefly, as adults they recognize each other as kindred spirits. The past holds a fascination for Essie, but what of the present, and the future? And what about Peter?

‘She knows the things that the light can’t see, the things beneath the surface that pull and suck.’

I enjoyed the setting for this novel: lighthouses have their own form of magic. While Ms Wood recreates life at the Cape Bruny Lighthouse during the nineteenth century through Essie’s writing, its significance in the twenty-first century is not lost. The light itself is automated now, but lives are still attracted by it and caught up within it. While the characters of Essie and Pete are interesting, I found myself more drawn to the past, to the constant presence and role of the lighthouse.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Indelible Ink
Indelible Ink
11 used & new from CDN$ 0.78

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘For the first time in years, the children were all at Sirius Cove for their mother’s birthday.’, April 9 2015
This review is from: Indelible Ink (Paperback)
Set in Sydney, shifting between Mosman and Surry Hills, this is the story of a segment of Marie King’s life. Marie, aged 59 and divorced, is unsatisfied with aspects of her life. Sure, she lives in a beautiful home in Mosman, and appears to have led a relatively privileged life. But somewhere along the way, Marie seems to have lost her sense of self. Increasingly, she is aware that she can no longer support the lifestyle she’s become used to on the allowance her ex-husband Ross pays. One day, bolstered by the bravery bestowed by alcohol, Marie wanders into a tattoo parlour. Her first tattoo leads to others, and introduces Marie (or sometimes reminds her) of other aspects of life.

Marie’s friends, and her children Clark, Blanche and Leon do not understand Marie’s need for (or is it an obsession with?) tattoos. For a while, it seems as though Marie is in control of her life, but is she?

I found this novel challenging, and interesting. Challenging because I found it very difficult to feel much sympathy for any of the characters. I don’t recognise much of the world that Marie, her friends and children inhabit. And yet, despite the privilege and opportunity conferred by wealth, few of the characters seemed comfortable or happy either with themselves or the world. I found the novel interesting because of the way Ms McGregor depicts Marie’s search for her own sense of life and what is important to her. There’s something about Marie’s desire to define herself separate from her family and her environment, about her appreciation of beauty in nature which held my attention. It is mid-summer, and Sydney is in drought. Many of the lives of those in the novel are also ‘in drought’, needing nourishment to meet their potential.

There is no happy ending in this novel, no chance for a happy new beginning. Life is often like that. But, to me at least, the Marie with whom we end the novel is a more fulfilled woman than the Marie with whom we commenced it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Shadow Ritual
Shadow Ritual
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Designed to last a thousand years, the bunker’s foundations were showing signs of weakness.’, March 30 2015
This review is from: Shadow Ritual (Kindle Edition)
Two slayings - one in Rome and the other in Jerusalem - rekindle an ancient rivalry between two separate secret societies. The two are in competition for information lost when the Third Reich fell, and will do whatever it takes to achieve their objectives.

‘There was no longer any room for doubt. It had all started in Germany and had continued over the course of centuries.’

Detective Antoine Marcas is reluctantly teamed with Jade Zewinski and tasked with tracking down Neo-Nazi assassins in Europe. To do this, they need to make sense of an arcane Freemason mystery, assisted by some information newly available from KGB files. Trying to stop the extremists, trying to get one step ahead of them while working out what they are after provides Antoine Marcas and Jade Zewinski with a number of challenges.

This is a fast paced and intriguing mystery, suitably peopled with likeable heroes and despicable villains. There are plenty of novels focussed on secret societies, usually with a focus on religious arcana. This novel held my attention: extremism (of whatever motivation) is sufficiently current, raw and real to feed contemporary concerns. It’s difficult to say more without introducing spoilers (and I’m very keen not to do that). If you are after a fast-moving novel that provides an historical context for its events and actions, if you are intrigued by secret societies, their rituals and arcana, then you may well enjoy ‘Shadow Ritual’. Recently translated from French, this is the first novel in a series. I’ll certainly be looking to read the others if they become available in English.

‘The flesh falls from the bones.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Le French Book for an opportunity to read this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Far as the Eye Can See: A Novel
Far as the Eye Can See: A Novel
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘From a break in the rocks where I stand, the country is as big as any whole earth I ever dreamed of.’, March 28 2015
Bobby Hale had been in the Union Army a few times: enlisting, taking the bonus, deserting and then re-enlisting. He can’t forget the action he saw at Fredericksburg and at Chickamauga. Bobby Hale is an orphan, and with no ties in the east, he’s looking to find a new life in the west. In 1869 Bobby Hale, armed with a Colt Dragoon revolver and an Evans repeater rifle, and with his mare Cricket, hooks up with a pioneer wagon train heading to Oregon. The wagon train is led by a man named Theo, and a Crow scout named Big Tree.

‘There ain’t nothing luxurious or enlightening about this part of our country, and I don’t know why people get so rapturous about it.’

In this novel, we journey with Bobby Hale between 1869 and 1876. We see the country through his eyes, see how he tries to do what he considers is right, and see how Bobby relates to the world around him. Bobby leaves the wagon train in Montana to go trapping in the Rockies with Big Tree. After a few years, he heads to Fort Ellis where he winters in a Conestoga wagon with widowed sisters Eveline and Christine. Then, after making plans to return to the sisters, he takes a job as a scout. After killing an Indian who is part of a peace party, Hale deserts. And then life gets complicated. Bobby’s subsequent journey with a new companion named Ink takes him into some dangerous territory, including the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

‘I wasn’t feeling like a hero no more.’

I really enjoyed reading this novel. Bobby Hale is no conventional hero, yet he tries very hard to do the right thing by those he cares about or feels some responsibility towards. He realises, too, that the white man’s treatment of the Indians is unjust and tries to learn more about the country in which he finds himself. I found myself thinking about Bobby and Ink after I finished reading the novel. Would they have stayed together? Could they have been happy? How would their lives have continued? Mr Bausch managed to create a story in which I could smell the coffee, hear the shots fired and appreciate the great divide between the Indian and European cultures of the American west.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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